TIM ROACH, PLANNED PARENTHOOD AND TAKING THE LORD'S WORDS SERIOUS...

Hi everyone, this is my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - March 20, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/032011.shtml.  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback!    Fr Jim


FOR MORE INFORMATION ON NEWMAN CATHOLIC AT MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY - Check out: www.MSUNEWMAN.com
Tim Roach and his family

HOMILY
    When we take the Lord’s words seriously, it can become really scary.

    A man by the name of Tim Roach recently was in the news. Tim a devout Catholic, husband and father of two, is an electrician and has been unemployed since June of 2009. So here it is, a year and 8 months later.  His benefits are set to expire when he gets a phone call from his company offering him a job. He would be the foreman on a new building with a salary of $65 - $70,000 a year... The building would take at least 11 months to construct, offering him some stability that would be a welcome change from these 20 months.  It sounded perfect - almost like the answer to a prayer he and his family had been praying.

    Oh, but there was one thing about this job offer. The building was a new Planned Parenthood clinic. Now what is the 38 year old man - who as a devout Catholic, who is pro-life and knows that Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest provider of abortions in the United States going to do?

    When we take the Lord’s words seriously, it can become really scary.

    That’s as true today as it is for the apostles in today’s Gospel.

    Six days prior to this scene we just heard, where Jesus is transfigured before them, the Lord had explained to them what was going to happen next. They were heading back to Jerusalem where he was going to be rejected, tortured and killed. When Peter attempts to offer Him support saying “NAH - THAT CAN’T HAPPEN - WE WON’T LET IT,” Jesus who sees and knows their hearts rejects those noble, but in the end what he knows to be empty sentiments and calls Peter “Satan” and tells him not to be an obstacle in fulfilling God’s mission which is Jesus’ saving humanity.

    Fast forward to today’s Gospel. It’s a week later, Jesus brings Peter, James and John to this mountain where all these amazing things happen. He’s “transfigured” - or in other words - he appears in this glorious form.   Feebly defined with human words like “radiant,” “shining like the sun,” “white as light”.  Oh, and by the way - Moses and Elijah - two of the greatest Jewish figures from the Old Testament appear. That had to have been a major WOW moment for the apostles.  “This is cool!” - So cool, they don’t want it to end... “Let’s stay here - let’s build tents,” Peter says.

    Just then, the voice of God the Father is heard THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, LISTEN TO HIM. And here’s what’s interesting – they go from excitement to terror. The Gospel says, “They fell prostrate and were very afraid”. What was it that made them so scared? Sure, we can imagine they felt reverence for the Creator of the universe speaking and that would inspire what is often called “fear of the Lord.” But it was more than“reverence” - they were on the ground very afraid (images of cartoon characters with their teeth chattering outside of their mouths seem to come to mind).  Why would the voice of God make something so awesome and exhilarating, into something so frightening. I think that beyond the fact that this overwhelmed them on so many levels, it was what they heard from the Father that scared them.

    Here the apostles had been seeing, experiencing Jesus doing and saying things that 2,000 years later we treasure. Like the apostles, we want to stick with those good things. “Wasn’t it cool when Jesus turned water into wine...” (Have a feeling that would be an extremely popular miracle even today) But when Jesus talks about other things - like calling his followers to deeper conversion, deeper commitment; like when he tries to prepare them for His impending passion and death... then there’s often times debate, confusion, disbelief, even rejection on the part of humanity.

    Maybe the fear that gripped the apostles was the reality that - yeah this IS GOD and they had to take what he was saying seriously. They had to stop rationalizing things in their minds, trying to figure out what the Lord meant, what loopholes they could apply. They had to stop focusing just on the things they liked to hear and experience, and really listen to Him.

    And if they truly listen to Him, then,

    - those words were calling them to stop living with their minds focused on this world,

    - those words were calling them to turn away from sin - not in a “yeah I know it’s a bad thing” that is said with a shrug saying “what can you do...” but truly to take sin seriously and to hear his words telling us to turn away from them are a matter of life and death...

    - those words were calling them to truly empty themselves - give themselves completely to the Lord
    all of those words have to be listened to... Have to be heard. Have to be followed.

    Maybe the fear that laid them out on the ground terrified was what they had heard 6 days earlier. When Jesus told them what He would face in Jerusalem really was going to happen. Jesus was serious about it and was asking them to come, to continue to follow with Him.

    When we take the Lord’s words seriously, it can become really scary.

    Yet one of the things that makes this version of the transfiguration so beautiful is how St. Matthew recounts it.   As the disciples remain somewhat frozen in fear, we hear, But Jesus came and touched them, saying ‘Rise and do not be afraid.And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
    Looking into the eyes of Jesus, and Him alone, they found the strength they needed to get up... To continue on with Him to Jerusalem. And when they would fail as they would continue to do in their journey with Jesus – stumbling even after Easter, after the Ascension, it would always be (and still is) in turning their eyes back to Jesus alone in those moments that would remove the fears, the doubts, the lies that have the ability to convince his followers that they cannot do whatever it is the Lord calls us to do.

    For the unemployed electrician, Tim Roach, he has been threatened with being fired for turning down the job (which would mean he’d lose his benefits immediately rather than in a few weeks); he has been tempted to pretend there’s not an issue, “Well - we’re not sure that abortions will actually take place there” a co-worker argued...  All in an attempt to somehow make him find a loophole to set aside something he in his heart of hearts believes to be wrong. You can imagine friends and family even arguing with him using more fear to convince him to just “take the job... you’re an electrician, it’s not like you’re doing the abortions.” Yet Tim turned down the job immediately. His wife, put it this way - “In the last six months, we’ve learned to take our fears and worries and give them to God.  It’s really changed me and my faith.”

    Yes it can be scary for each of us when we take the Lord’s words seriously. We are surrounded by voices, influences, people who, whether they intentionally mean to or not, constantly stoke those fears and doubts.  Yet, we hear the Lord calling us this Lent to change, to conversion.   Maybe to confront a sin that we’ve become comfortable with.   Maybe it’s to honestly admit our powerlessness in the face of an addiction we’re struggling with and tell ourselves “I’m never going to be able to be able to combat that.”  Maybe it’s a call into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and realizing that in order for that to happen, I can’t live the same way, do the same things, be with the same people because they distract me from being with Him and listening to Him.

    What the disciples found on the mountain of Transfiguration and Tim Roach found in this difficult time is that it’s okay for us to have our fears. It’s human, normal for us, when we know we’re being challenged to grow and change, for us to resist.   But the reality is, we are left with two choices - to stay on the ground like the apostles riddled with fear, or to hear the Lord invite us to ‘RISE AND DO NOT BE AFRAID’ and take those words seriously...

SAINT JOSEPH, FAITHFUL SERVANT

 Hi everyone, here's my homily given at Saint Agnes Church, Clark NJ on Monday, MARCH 14, 2011 for the Annual St. Joseph’s Novena


    When I was asked to speak on tonights topic: SAINT JOSEPH FAITHFUL SERVANT, something hit me about that right away.  From the moment Joseph learned he was going to be a Father, his life became focused on one purpose “to be the personal servant of Jesus Christ.”   For those of you who are parents, you probably are nodding your heads recognizing what was so obvious about that.  Every good parent from the moment they receive news they are going to become parents, begins a lifetime of service to their child.  There’s never an age when they stop thinking about their children.  I’m 37 years old and look, my parents still have to check up on me!  But seriously, I’ve shared this with the college students who, just beginning to fully experience that taste of independence and freedom and want to know why their parents “just don’t understand” (or sometimes “they’re so annoying”) - well I try to say to them- “Guy’s that’s there job!  From the moment they learned you were coming on the scene, you wrecked their lives (mostly in a good way) - you will never leave their minds or hearts - even though they want you to grow up and be on your own - you are their responsibility and their lifelong service to you will never end.

    Knowing how crazy challenging this can be for both parents and children to deal with this notion, this lifetime of selfless, loving service, now let’s throw another wrinkle in it to think about our friend Joe - St. Joseph.  Sure every parent thinks that their kid is God’s gift to creation - St. Joseph and Mary were really right.

    Yes, this was no ordinary child.  Nothing was ordinary about any of this.  That Gospel we heard - that was no ordinary way for Joseph to learn he was going to be a parent (first Mary tells him the news and then he has this dream inviting him intimately to be a part of all that God wished to accomplish)

    How was St. Joseph able to be this Faithful Servant?   To believe all of this... To trust all of that the Lord was proposing to him.  Well the best way I’ve come to understand how he did this was by remembering how this devotion to St. Joseph taught me how to do that in my life.

    It was right here in this Church, probably the second or third year that we were doing the“Novena to St. Joseph” here 20 years ago... March 1991.   I got home from Arthur L. Johnson (when it was still REGIONAL High School) and right there on the kitchen table was a letter from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  I had applied to four different colleges, and gotten accepted at three of them, but this was the one I was waiting for, and I mean THE one.  It was my top choice.  I had gone on the tour really fell in love with the place.   It just seemed like the place for me... Reminded me of the colleges my brothers had gone to with the stone towered buildings and all.  It was close enough to the city, but not in the city; a university, but not a huge school; Catholic.  It just seemed a perfect fit or exactly what I had imagined that I wanted...  Again for parents, you can attest to how annoying that whole process can be (Now that I work with college students, I’ve apologized to my parents) Anyway, there were two things I needed  1 - To get accepted and 2 - To get $4,000 in aid to supplement the amount my parents were paying to make this all work.  So here it was, I had just finished the St. Joseph’s Novena, it was the St. Joseph Feast Day and on the table the letter I was waiting for.  If only God were this direct in all our prayer requests I thought.

    I opened the letter, and there it was - an acceptance letter, with an attached letter saying I had been awarded a scholarship for $4,250 a year.  Everyone was excited, I was excited, I couldn’t believe it, I had gotten everything I wanted everything I had prayed for and I was convinced that it was divine providence that it should happen that day.  And I still smile at the fact that 5 months later I would be driving to De Sales University a much smaller school in Allentown Pennsylvania that in many ways was the complete opposite of St. Joes (for one thing there were no stone towers - just an awful lot of cornfields) where I spent four very happy years there.

    What happened?  20 years later, I’m convinced that I had my first experience of true prayer when prayer changed me.  Here I had been going to this Novena with my wish list each night – with very specific wishes –  in a sense trying to get someone else up there to help me wrestle a couple of favors from the almighty, a couple of gifts.  Excuse me Lord – I know you’re busy, but if you could spare a few minutes, how about getting me into this University with a little cash (He is more generous than most Financial aid officers are).  I was good – I made EVERY night of the Novena, even when some speakers were a little too long, even on FRIDAY NIGHT I went to the Novena (convinced that the power of Novena prayers could make up the deficit to my S.A.T. scores) and I got my reward.  Yet 4 weeks later I completely changed my mind.  My initial excitement was legitimate, and as Allentown called to see where I was in my decision I said “I just got accepted to St. Joseph’s University” and the woman who I had gotten to know by now said “Hey that’s great Jim, Congratulations.  I know you were really hoping for that.  We’re sorry to lose you to them, you’d be a great addition to our family, but you have to do what’s best for you.”  Something hit me as I hung up - could I have missed what was perfect for me and right before my eyes, simply because I was so focused solely on what I wanted?  All of a sudden,  the genuine goodness of these people as well as the terrific qualities and aspects of DeSales University that I had blinded myself to shined through to me.  I hung up that phone.  Thought about it and said to my parents, “I think I’m going to go to DeSales” – and my father laughed and poked my mom and said “I told you”.  Glad they didn’t kill me for putting them through that back and forth, but being the third time they went through with it, they probably were well prepared.

    So often we approach prayer as looking to get our wish lists answered.   And it’s not that there’s anything wrong at all in bringing our hopes, our desires, our wishes to God.  There have been times that people have told me of miracles that have happened – absolute miracles, no question.  But more times than not, the miracle isn’t that they’re loved one is cured of cancer – but that the person is not as wracked with fear, or that they have a strength to face the disease and treatments for it they didn’t have before.  Or The person didn’t magically get that certain job, but they are at peace and confident in who they are as a Child of God, and that confidence changes them as they apply for that next job... (which not surprisingly, often works out to be a much better fit)

    And that’s the thing prayer is not about us getting things, but rather openning us up to a deeper relationship with God.  Not asking Him simply to change this situation, but to show us how he is present there already, how we can deal with the situation in front of us.  Right now, we look somewhat hopelessly at pictures from Japan right now.  Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, we wish we could go back in time and warn people - or that miraculously no one would have been killed - or - something... we just don’t want those pictures and stories to be as dreadfully real as they are.  Our prayers are meant to help us see that God was there a week ago before anyone ever imagined what was going to happen.  That God was there in the midst of that crisis.  And God is there, and active in countless ways now.  Prayer isn’t about going to some magic genie to get what we want... It makes it easier for to see God’s presence, action, and what he’s calling us to do right here and now.

    Which brings us back to St. Joseph and why we look to St. Joseph as this powerful saint.  A few years ago this Jewish woman that my mother worked with and who we’re friendly with saw me one afternoon- she went back into her office and came running out saying “Just the priest I wanted to see – I got this statue of St. Joseph and I know that I’m suppose to do something with him so I can sell my house finally.” I said “what” she said “Look – I’m a desperate woman, I’m calling in the big guns on this one so tell me what to do” I said “Do you think if you burry a Jewish guy in the ground he’s going to help you sell your house?”

    Joseph is not a powerful saint because he gets us things, he’s a powerful saint because he was that Faithful Servant to Jesus Christ.  And this foster-son who came into his life in such unprecedented ways, completely changed the path that Joseph had imagined for himself.  Joseph is a powerful witness to us because he was able to go with that new plan.  And he was able to do that - because he already knew God - He had already been a man of sincere prayer...

    He could let the words of the Lord spoken through an angel not seem like some crazy, random dream - but really made sense to him.  He could let go of his own hopes, dreams and desires in light of these miraculous happenings.  That had to have been painful and confusing.  Mary would remain a Virgin... This child would not be his own flesh and blood...  Yet, he doesn’t argue, debate, pout, threaten never to pray again since he didn’t get his way... All of this made sense to Joseph because He was confident that God was always with him.    And as the story would change, he remained faithful.

    As you come to this Novena each night, each year, so many of you come with very personal intentions.  Some of you are carrying heavy burdens, heavy crosses that you feel might crush you.   Some of you have many concerns or worries.  It’s easy to fall into the thought process that if I do this for nine days, then God HAS to give me what I want or St. Joseph didn’t do his job and I’m through with him...  But that’s now what this is about.  May our devotion to this Saint open our hearts even more to experiencing how much prayer can change us, how God can change us if we let him... May St. Jospeh, the faithful servant to Jesus Christ be an example, a witness, a friend who intercedes for us, a witness to his foster-son who is with us, helping us carry whatever burdens we bring to this novena that Jesus is triumphant over, and wishes to help us triumph over as well.  May our devotion to this Saint bring a sense of calm, a sense of peace to all our fears and burdens.  For all of us, especially the People of God of St. Agnes Parish, who know this already - but may we be renewed in confidence that St. Joseph does indeed pray for us...

THE TEMPTATION TO DESPAIR

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 13, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/031311.shtml .  Thanks for reading and your feedback.  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

    -Friday morning a friend of mine from high school who I really haven’t spoken to in years emailed me.  Her 7 and a half year old son who’s going to receive his first communion this year, loves going to CCD class - just a sensitive little guy had a question that she was having difficulty answering that she hoped I could help with.  Why would God let the Tsunami hit Japan killing thousands of people? 



    -The day prior, a friend of mine from Pennsylvania emailed me with links to a slew of stories outlining once again the shocking clergy sex-abuse scandal that has devastated parishioners in Philadelphia, if not the entire universal Church which has to mourn such depravity.  Here is a devout, faithful friend who’s simply voicing her understandable disgust at the whole thing, using words such as betrayed, shock, disbelief...

    -A student leader and a young man who works in Campus Ministry with me are both struggling with the realities that their mother’s are battling deadly forms of cancer.  Not surprisingly, they’re at a loss even to express what they’re feeling or thinking.  Here they are both in their 20's and are facing something that very few of their peers could even imagine, let alone relate to.

    -This coming Tuesday - 16 Firefighters and 8 Police Officers from the town where I serve as Fire Department Chaplain will be laid off.   In just a five minute conversation, they move from anger, to fear, to disbelief.

    If anyone were to doubt the existence, the reality, the extent of evil in the world, which is able to manifest itself in all kinds of ways, well then you have to wonder are they paying attention at all?  Taken separately, any one of these things can be earthshattering for people.  But the combination of so many of them for so many people at once has set up an environment... a feeling that is palpable.  An overwhelming sense that many are losing hope... That some are giving up on God.  That they are going to give into temptation... the temptation to despair.     You’re here.  Thankfully, all of you are here... And in that, something in your hearts hasn’t given into that temptation to despair - as real as it might be... Hope remains alive here - for some that Hope might be burning brightly, and others that light might be as slight as a flickering little birthday candle...What does Jesus Christ want to say to us?  How does he want to speak to us struggling with the temptation to despair.

    Well for one thing, he knows what we’re going through.  Here on this first Sunday of Lent we hear about Jesus’ time in the desert.  We meet Christ as He fasts and prays for 40 days as he prepares to announce His Good News of Great Joy to all the World of the tremendous love our Heavenly Father has for each and every one of us.   As He’s preparing to share this important message, we find the evil one is lurking right there.  Brazenly attempting to tempt the Son of God.  We can’t underestimate how challenging or difficult this confrontation was for Jesus.  The fact that it’s recounted in three of the Gospels, that it’s identified as a temptation, means, well that it was tempting...   In some way, the devil had to make Jesus think or consider: 

    You’re hungry - you’ve fulfilled your obligation, your fast... you’re a good Son... What’s wrong, really, with turning some stones into bread for yourself?  You have the ability - why not use it for yourself?  

    You’re going back to deal with all those thick headed people - how are you going to communicate this message to them... How are you going to make them trust God, know that God loves them - You want their attention?  You need something big, something that will grab their attention - throw yourself from this height.  The Scripture says that His angels will be there to catch you - You want attention, that will do it.  Who wouldn’t listen to you after something like that? 

    Surely there’s got to be an easier way to become the ruler over all these people.  What’s that whole bizarre thing that you’re Father’s been talking to you about - to die on a Cross?  Why should you suffer punishment for things you never did?  I’m the author of death, let’s work together, simply bow down to me.. and I’ll relent and all of these kingdoms will be yours. 


    That’s the thing with any temptation, there’s an element within it that resonates with us that makes it seem logical and reasonable.  That’s why it’s easy to understand that with so many challenges that so many of us are going through right now, the great temptation to despair has become more and more real.  Affecting every age group from young people who were suspect and doubting to begin with to those who’ve weathered some pretty horrific trials and tribulations to remember yet have this reaction, even if for a moment “That’s it I can’t take it anymore.”

    Every temptation becomes a pivotal moment.  These are always crucial decisions we’re confronted with.  The evil one will continue to come at us in global and personal ways over and over to try to throw anything to separate us from God.  He’s been doing it since the day our first parents wandered the Lord’s Garden in innocence and were tempted to believe that the power to be God’s equal was in their grasp and theirs for the taking, all the way through to the trials we face today.

    The scriptures which have spoken to thousands of generations before confronted by the same tempter proposing lies to that same goal of separating us from God, speak to us here and now.  And Jesus gives us the reason for our hope.  That God is not some distant, remote, disinterested being who wants to mess with us to see just how far he can push us in some bizarre challenge making this life of ours some twisted game.   St. Leo the Great put it like this Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant.  Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering.  We have a God so intimately close, so desiring to be one with us, so deeply in love with us - that the Creator of the Universe becomes one of us - one with us. 

    He endures the temptations, only a foretaste of the final battle with Satan that we will celebrate at the end of Lent.  There is no humiliation he will not endure, there is no trial he’s unwilling to face, there is no length that he will not go to for you and I.  In the face of some incredibly trying things, the challenge we’re faced with is to renew ourselves not simply in a belief of something - but in our relationship with someone - in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  That’s why at the start of this season of Lent, we always hear one of the accounts of Jesus’ first victories over Satan.  So that we’re not intimidated by the humbling reminder we experienced on Ash Wednesday, that were God to withhold that breath of life (that we heard about in the first reading from Genesis) as he breathed into Adam’s nostrils - we would be nothing more than the ashes that marked our foreheads a few days ago.  Yet the beauty of the Adam and Eve story is that in the midst of their disobedience, succumbing to the temptations they endured, God didn’t do that - He didn’t remove that breath of life.  So “taken” with us, this creation that somehow constantly thinks it knows better than the creator – God continued and continues to reach out.


    And as we renew ourselves in our relationship with Jesus Christ - stripping away all the other things that promise us the answers to our desires and wants, breeding insatiable appetites where we are tempted in even greater ways than ever before - and just be one with Him, we come to realize how much our God still hopes in us... He still believes in us.  He still trusts that just as His Son overcame every temptation and become even more committed to the mission He was sent to accomplish - that we will not give into the temptation to despair, but come out even more committed.  Recognizing His activity in ways that might not seem immediately obvious.  Experiencing His love that sustains us when we are ready to give in completely.  Yes, there’s still way too many things that weigh down our hearts that tempt us to despair - to forget those things.  God still hopes in us, hasn’t given up on us... now it’s our move.

ADDICTED TO A DRUG CALLED CHARLIE SHEEN -


Hi everyone, Happy Ash Wednesday! Here’s my homily for Ash Wednesday - March 9, 2011... The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/030911.shtml...

Thanks as always for reading and your feedback... HAVE A HOLY AND GREAT LENT!!! Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

So about a week ago, being stuck in one of our routine traffic jams, and trying not to lose it that a 20 minute ride was becoming 2 hours, I was listening to Sirius Satellite Radio when I heard them announce that they were adding a new channel to their lineup... You ready for this?

Tiger Blood Radio. That’s right - a 24 hour limited run entire channel that would examine, as they put it - all the news, facts and media frenzy surrounding Charlie Sheen. If I wasn’t aggravated enough by the traffic, now I was really annoyed. Because no matter how much I try not even to pay attention to what is either - another bizarre Public-relations campaign designed to garner more popularity (as twisted as that is, we know that’s a possibilty) or, (sadly, more likely each day...) watching yet another actor self-destruct... it doesn’t matter, you can’t avoid hearing about this celebrity and all that’s been going on in his life.

Like most of you, I’ve heard more about his alcohol and drug abuse, his sleeping with multiple partners and so on than I ever wanted to. In one of these endless numbers of interviews, he was asked a serious question. Looking at his really erratic behavior, especially over the last few weeks, the reporter asked whether he was taking any drugs that could explain this behavior. His response has become a punch line - “I’m on a drug and it’s called Charlie Sheen.”

What was remarkable about that was that in a sense, that phrase kind of summed it all up pretty perfectly. At the root of all sin is complete self-absorption, not to mention self-destruction. Watching and hearing all of this, you cannot help but feel sadness at a man who’s so obviously trapped in this life of sin that he doesn’t realize or doesn’t care about the damage he’s doing to himself and to those around him who do love and care about him, especially his family. Yet it seems no one can break through to him, after multiple attempts, as his career, HIS LIFE seems to be falling apart.

But part of the reason is that things haven’t really fallen apart... yet. In fact he’s become like some cult-like hero. His behaviors and actions are being celebrated and glamorized. Something like more than 2.5 million people are “following” him on Twitter, which is the fastest number of people to follow someone on Twitter in their history... There’s drinks being made in his honor... T-shirts with his catch-phrases. The media will continue to cover Sheen, even dedicating an entire radio channel to his exploits, as long as we the public continue to consume the drug called Charlie Sheen. Buying into his fame - wondering what the “bad boy” is up to today and in a sense validating the self-absorption, and self-destructive behavior. Maybe, if we tuned out, he could realize the harm he’s doing to himself (not to mention to ourselves by even paying as much attention as we do). But I wonder if part of the reason so many of us get caught up in these stories and the many more that have come before and after it is that it distracts us from our own self-absorption, our own self-destruction, our own sinfulness.

Which is why we need Ash Wednesday. Something (or rather, someone) in our hearts draws us here. We seem drawn to come here to receive this smudge of dirt on our foreheads. And as we do, we hear the words Remember man you are dust and to dust you will return. Those were the words of the Lord to Adam and Eve as they leave the Garden of Eden. The result of their self-absorption led to their self-destruction. God’s words and these ashes are meant to be a stark reminder to us that if God were to take his Breath of Life from us - no matter how often we delude ourselves to thinking that no it’s not the same as Adam and Eve, no it’s not like Charlie Sheen - I’m not that bad... no matter how important we think we are, tough we are... were God to take His loving glance off of us, all we would be is a pile of ashes.

Real downer, I know...

But it’s not!!!! Because the Great Hope that Jesus Christ came to this world to proclaim to all of humanity is that you and I are made for so much more than what the world tells us... the sin that the world seems fascinated by, glamorizes and chooses to celebrate, that deep within, we know just doesn’t seem right.

It’s not, which is why we need Ash Wednesday, we need this season of Lent. We’re recalling how Jesus entered into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer before he began his work of proclaiming the Kingdom of God was at hand. And so Jesus invites us to join him in that experience. To make these next 40 days a time of fasting and prayer... A time for us to take an honest look at our lives and see where our self-absorption is doing damage to us and to our relationship with the Lord and one another.

Jesus gives us practical ways of breaking away from the routines we’re in, breaking away from our addictions to sin and self-absorption through Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving.

Today we as a Church are asked to “fast” to limit the food we eat to simple, meatless meals, and to refrain from eating meat on all of the Fridays of Lent. Each time our stomachs growl it’s an opportunity for us to turn away from saying why can’t I eat that... I’M HUNGRY ... to making it a physical prayer - where my whole body begins to say - I hunger for you O Lord. In addition, maybe you want to do something personal yourself - to give up coffee, or drinking. Some of your peers gave up facebook and texting. I know! But the idea isn’t like an endurance challenge - it’s to say, none of those things are even remotely more important than God is in my life.. Sure I like those things, but again, it’s like my whole being starts to say - but I desire you more O God.

Almsgiving - we often think of that as giving money to the poor, which is one aspect of it. But perhaps you don’t have a lot of cash (most of you are poor college students) - so maybe you give of yourself sharing your time and talent. If you want to do that in community service of some sort, that’s terrific - but maybe our “alms” and sharing of time will be just with each other. Think of family members or friends that if you really think about it, you haven’t had a real conversation with them. You’ve sent a facebook message or a quick text - but perhaps you haven’t had time to really spend time with your little sister or your parents...you haven’t had a meaningful conversation where you asked a friend how are you doing, really? Without interrupting them to tell them how you’re doing...

And finally, prayer... Prayer at its most basic level is conversation, communicating with God. Developing that personal relationship with Jesus. Learning how much Jesus loves us and desires our full, rich, happy lives. But we can’t know that, experience that if we never spend time with him. We don’t need to over-complicate it. Maybe you have gotten out of the habit of going to Mass on Sundays - today’s the day to recommit to it. Maybe you haven’t been to confession in a long time - make this Lent the Lent that you will experience the most profound love of Jesus Christ as in the sacrament he says to you - your sins are forgiven.

Basically we are here to acknowledge that all of us are sinners. We are prone to self-absorption, as well. We might not be on a drug called “Charlie Sheen”, but we could probably see times, or areas in our lives where we’ve been addicted to a drug called (insert your name here). With these ashes, with our turning away from those things that distract and detract from Christ, and with our turning towards Him, we finally can break the addiction.

I'M SORRY, DO I KNOW YOU?


Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - MARCH 6, 2011 given at MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY at NEWMAN CATHOLIC CAMPUS MINISTRY (www.MSUNEWMAN.com) .

The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/030611.shtml - I appreciate you stopping by to read and sharing your feedback. God Bless - Father Jim

HOMILY:

About two years ago, on a regular Friday in New York City... I had just gotten on an elevator and there’s was a woman already there when I got on. Even though it’s against “New York protocol” to actually interact with a stranger, I usually at least smile and say hello. Well immediately this woman looked me in the eye “JIMMIE CHERN.”

I have absolutely no poker face. So she must have seen my clueless-ness because before I could even try to pretend or stall or something, she said “You don’t even know who I am do you? It’s Wendy - Wendy Schultz.” Yeah, it was bad – really bad - this was a person who’s parents were so tight with my parents that my brothers and I called them “Aunt” and “Uncle”. Our families had gone on weekend trips together. As soon as she started talking, I almost immediately knew who this was. I felt awful...

Probably because I know how it feels to be on the other end of that. I remember bumping into this teacher I had in high school. She was one of those teachers that you really admired – you know? I actually liked her class, she made me interested in the material, I wanted to do well because I respected her and she would get me excited just to go to her class, she was just so passionate and fun in her teaching style. She was one of those teachers you look up to. Well a few years after college I bumped into her and I remember how excited I was when I saw her. We were both in Old Navy, I saw her down the aisle - could tell instantly it was her. So I go down the aisle, right up to her, imaging she’s going to be just as happy to see me and to hear what I was doing with my life... so I went up to her and I say, Hello Mrs.Walsh... How are you!!! and she puts her glasses on, looks at me like I was some worker at Old Navy who just randomly walked up to her, and she didn’t even try to hide it... she said“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

No - I just took a stab in the dark and guessed your name and turned out to be correct? Come on, you’ve taught how many years and you’re surprised that someone you might not recognize bumps into you and you couldn’t at a minimum imagine I was a former student?

Yeah it was a bit embarrassing. I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation – one side or the other (and if you’re so young, you haven’t yet... don’t worry... it will happen) In hindsight, neither one of those incidents should’ve been surprising. As much as I think I’m a memorable character, well Mrs. Walsh had 5 sections of History every semester so what that’s like 100 kids per semester - and this was at least 6, 7 years later... I’m not great at math, but that’s a lot of kids (and maybe she didn’t want to remember me or my class for that matter!) And as for Wendy - well, yeah, our families were tight probably till I was in 6th or 7th grade, and then we had kind of drifted off - we were all in different schools, my parents work schedules had changed, so, yeah, I really hadn’t seen, let alone had a meaningful conversation with Wendy in over 23 years.

The reason it feels so embarrassing is because we assume - if I remember this person, why hasn’t this person remembered me? That sentence though, whether verbalized or just in body language, “I’m sorry, do I know you?” just hits our egos in such a dramatic way. It’s hard not to feel it instantly.

Which is what makes Jesus’ warning that much more important for us. Here we assume, well Jesus is God... God’s our creator, he’s supposed to know who we are... If God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing - then how could he not know who I am? And so long as I know and recognize who he is, we should be all good, right?

While we can look at this as a dire warning (and there is a pretty dire warning in there that if you think about it carefully, Jesus is kind of saying that some of his disciples aren’t going to make it into heaven - that’s kind of dire) the flip side of that makes the same point and is even more positive to reflect on.

Jesus deeply desires to have a meaningful relationship with each of us.

He’s not looking for us to get an answer to a question correct like we’re playing a game of Jeopardy: “This is our Lord and Savior” - “Alex - ‘Who is Jesus?”“ CORRECT! No we’re not to be asking “who is Jesus” - we’re supposed to know Him - and know Him not just on a book level or an intellectual level. Not simply someone we admire and look up to. We’re to know him by having a meaningful, real relationship with Him. Here and now...Eternity starts here, and now.

And how does that happen, he tells us - when our words and deeds match up. So if we one day wish to call out “Lord, Lord” - we should be doing that now. And if we’re calling out that now, then He has to truly be my Lord, Lord now. We cannot drive out demons in other people using His name, while we allow those demons to run unchecked in my life (because part of us likes playing with those demons!) We can’t just in a sense use Jesus to do mighty deeds around us, while not asking him to come into our lives and do mighty deeds with us and within us.

Because so often we opt for a mediocre relationship. To know Jesus - on our terms. Sunday Mass- good (hey we’re doing better than over half of the Catholics in the world, because at least we’re here on Sunday) Yet Jesus pretty clearly recognizes that superficiality. And he’s not interested in that. I suppose his laying down his life for us tells us how serious he is about this relationship. Which is why He tells us that we have to build our lives on Him as our foundation. Jesus needs to be a constant companion, someone who impacts all aspects of our lives. We have to come to know Him, yes, here in His word, in the Eucharist where He becomes really present - body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine. But we also to have to come to know Him and see and recognize His presence in every other person we come in contact with. So when I look at my co-worker, my roommate, my sibling or parent and see an opportunity to see and love Jesus Christ, we deepen our relationship with Him. Our words and deeds begin to match up in a much deeper, more authentic manner.

We might not know everyone’s name, but we recognize and love Jesus Christ in them. And in doing that, we can be sure, Jesus will know us as well.

JESUS WANTS TO KNOW - "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?"


Homily for Thursday Night's 9 PM Mass/Eucharistic Adoration - at the Newman Catholic Center - Montclair State University.

The Gospel reading from Mark 10: 46-52:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.


A lot of you know that this is probably one of my favorite miracle scenes from the Gospels, and because of that, I reference this scene a lot in spiritual direction or confession. Look at how much respect Jesus has for each of us and for our individual freedom.

The blind man by the side of the road is begging, probably something he’s grown accustomed to doing every day. He hears that Jesus has passed by and he calls out “Jesus Son of God have pity on me”. Jesus goes over and asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Initially it seems like a dumb question to ask... I mean, this is Jesus, right? So, I’m half waiting for Bartimeus to go “Really?” what do you think I want Lord?

But the more I think about this scene and think about how I respond in my own “Bartimeus-moments” when the Lord is asking me “What do you want me to do for you?” well, Jesus has every reason to ask that question. Because sometimes – no I don’t want the cure...I’m miserable, but I want to stay miserable... What do I want Lord?
- I want to moan to you about how messed up my life is.
-I want to tell you about all the miserable people who passed by and didn’t give me anything.
- I want you to give me some food or some cash today...

For Bartimeus to ask for his sight though? That’s a lot harder to ask for.
-Bartimeus has to actually believe it’s possible for that to happen.
- He has to believe that Jesus can do this and wants to do this.
- He has to be bold enough to ask.
- He has to realize that when this happens, his life will change completely
- so he won’t be able to beg, or complain about the lack of charity of others.
- In fact, now he will be required to bear witness to what Jesus has done so that those still suffering will know that God loves them and desires their fullness.

What about us? With Jesus here among us, Jesus who will be within us when we receive him in the Eucharist, and right in front of us in adoration... as you gaze on Him and he gazes back at you - Jesus in this moment is asking us - What do you want me to do for you?

- Is it to be free finally of a sin we’ve been struggling with?
- Is it to let go of a fear that has held us back from an even deeper relationship with Jesus Christ?
- Is it to hear the truth, to BELIEVE the truth of how truly loved, truly precious we are in His eyes instead of the awful lies that the world continues to spew and have come to believe about what is “beautiful”?

Whatever it is, we’re challenged to take a moment and remember who it is who comes to us. Jesus who desires our fullness comes. Bartimeus’ witness speaks thousands of years later that Jesus can be trusted - that we can be vulnerable, we can be bold, we can believe in Him and trust Him to listen to us, to be attentive to us, as he asks us What do you want me to do for you?